“Have a nice vacation,” the woman at the register said as I was leaving the store. I had casually mentioned that we were in final stages of preparing for Burning Man.
Vacation? I had never thought of going to Burning Man the same way I think of going on a vacation. I mean, there are similarities. It’s a diversion from day-to-day routines; you feel refreshed and renewed from your time on the Playa; you often see new and exciting things and meet people from faraway places.
But there are a lot of things about Burning Man that make it different from a traditional vacation. First of all, you can’t be passive at Burning Man. Nobody’s going to wait on you, clean up for you, cook for you. Radical Self-Reliance is hardly what you expect from, say, Disney World. You want places to go eat when you’re hungry, sites to entertain you and your family, stores to buy mementos. And you want all of it at the tip of your fingers. At Burning Man, some of those features may be available, but not in the easy-to-access, user-friendly style of a resort or theme park.
For example, while you might be able to find food (and it won’t cost you anything) you have to supply your own cup, plate, and utensils. And there’s nobody to wait on you; no place even to sit down in comfort. Like a regular vacation spot, there are fun things to do at Burning Man, some of them not unlike amusement park rides; but they’re rough-hewn as opposed to the slickness of a theme park, and they’re not watched over by uniformed staff and protected by guards. Another similarity with a resort is that Burning Man is laid out in a guide that includes a map; but it’s vastly more difficult to find your way around Black Rock City than a paved and groomed all-inclusive vacation site.
But there’s still a bigger difference: Burning Man is “not a spectator sport.” It’s a place where everyone participates, often working hard to be part of the process of creating this utopian world. Volunteering for one of the demanding roles is part of the Burning Man ethos. You can be a Lamplighter one night, a Greeter the next day, then a barista at the Center Camp Café, and dozens of other roles. If you’re a professional masseuse, you can gift your services to fellow Burners; if you’re an artist, you can turn your campsite into your own creative vision.
Want to read your poetry aloud? Sign up for a time slot at Center Camp. Dying to renew your Band Camp days? Join one of the Burning Man bands that compete at the battle of marching bands on Friday evening in Center Camp. There are no guidelines for what to do and how to do it. You find your way to the full pleasures of Burning Man by deciding for yourself. But what I’ve found to be true is this: the more you do, the more you’ll love the experience.
You can sit back and be entertained on vacation; but you can jump in and be entertaining at Burning Man.
We’ll be on the Playa in just a few days. Hope to see some of you there. Temple Guardians staff camp is at 5:30 and Esplanade.